As we look back on 2013 and forward toward 2014, I can say without hesitation that our city is headed in the right direction with our best days to come. As the national economy continues to turn, Augusta and our entire community is entering into an exciting time of prosperity the likes of which I firmly believe we have never known.
The year began with the opening of the long-anticipated, state-of-the-art Augusta Convention Center. After a long and at times difficult process to bring the facility online, the center now serves as a point of civic pride with historic preservation at its core, while at the same time exceeding revenue projections and contributing $9 million in direct visitor spending to our local economy.
THRIVING CITIES MAINTAIN constant attention from new retailers and commercial development, as the investment of quality commercial developers is a leading indicator for the strength of a local economy based on market research performed by the investors. With this in mind, Augusta is extremely fortunate to have announced in 2013 the entry into our marketplace of Cabela’s, Whole Foods and Designer Show Warehouse and Home Goods in west Augusta, as well as a Chick-fil-A and a Krispy Kreme to serve our southside residents. I know that I join with all of our citizens in welcoming these businesses to our city while looking forward to their grand openings in 2014.
Augusta and our community as a whole is extraordinarily blessed to be home to Fort Gordon and the U.S. Army Signal Corps. It was this relationship that ultimately led to the most transformational economic development initiative that our community has seen in a generation, with the announcement that our fort will be the home of the U.S. Army Cyber Command, bringing with it 1,500 new jobs. In a recent article, Dan Chapman of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution stated, “For Augusta, it’s Christmas, New Year’s and the Super Bowl all wrapped into one.”
Couple all of the above with last year’s passage of the transportation special-purpose local option sales tax; the ongoing expansion at Plant Vogtle; the consolidation of Georgia Regents University Augusta and its commitment to all future expansion efforts to come in the urban core with the potential for the Mills District; and the gravity of what is about to happen to our city truly begins to resonate. Having been invited to address the International Association of Outsourcing Professionals World Summit in Phoenix and the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy over the past year, I can assure you that what we’re doing here in Augusta is not going unnoticed at the national level, and it’s truly an exciting time for our city.
IN THE COMING YEAR, we all can look forward to a new $172 million Starbucks production facility becoming fully operational, as well as the grand opening of the $76.5 million J. Harold Harrison, M.D., Education Commons building at GRU Augusta. This undoubtedly helps to put our city at a competitive advantage as we seek to leverage ongoing investments in a very competitive national economic development environment, which is something we never should take for granted. The fact that the metro Augusta unemployment rate is at a five-year low also bodes well for the coming year.
In closing, I would like to thank all of my citizens for allowing me the opportunity to serve you as mayor for eight years, and I pledge to you all that I’m fully committed to working as hard as possible to make great things happen for Augusta in the coming year. Happy New Year to all, and here’s looking forward to a prosperous, healthy and happy 2014!
(The writer first was elected mayor of Augusta in 2005.)